Life as a Jigsaw

How do we see ourselves? A complex question. This could be considered what artwork really is, an attempt to see ourselves through metaphor. In that vein our ‘self’ could be seen much like a jigsaw puzzle. Each part of the whole contributes to the picture that your life becomes.

Base emotions, how do they sit within your body? Where do you feel them? Experiences that become memories, or forgotten memories. What effect does that memory have on you? Parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system reactions to stimulus. Those times we ‘don’t know what came over us’, we ‘saw red’, all part of the lattice of life.

In childhood we don’t have all those pieces yet; our brains are forming and developing those systems, literally growing the tissues that we need to understand and interact with our environments, and learning how to connect with the world through our parents actions. A very early version of the jigsaw might be one piece, or two pieces that don’t seem to fit together. I think everyone who’s been a teenager, or has teenagers, can attest to the feeling of not knowing where those pieces fit, and being able to find a piece that feels uncomfortable — we’re unsure where it fits in the picture, we’re unsure what the picture is even supposed to be, so we cry, and shout, and scream, until we can learn to communicate. That’s another piece. Arguably we build our puzzles over the course of a whole lifetime, however you could say that a full puzzle emerges in our mid to late twenties, we feel like we know the picture well enough and we can make decisions based on how it looks.

The people we surround ourselves with like how our picture looks, although they might have an eye on changing some of the pieces or taking them for themselves, the truth is that that is impossible. A truly loving interdependent relationship sees two people admiring and celebrating each other’s pictures, resonating with the colours off of the emotional palette. The content of the pictures; the landscapes, trees, ocean, beach, fast cars, or a modern city scape. Whatever is most important to you will be in your picture. Whatever habits, or consistent actions, you have will also be in your picture.

Over time, there is bound to be pieces within the whole jigsaw puzzle that don’t feel right anymore, perhaps you notice that one of your habits doesn’t really sit that well with you; maybe it’s having that second drink in the pub that makes you feel groggy, and shut down, the next day. Alcohol is proven to shut down parts of the brain, which can be useful to quiet the intellectual pre-frontal cortex and access a bit more of our emotional side, life is about balance, finding the point where the pieces fit together for yourself. So we embark on a journey of reflection; understanding, we pick out the pieces and observe them. We examine how they fit in our lives. If this is a big undertaking we might seek support and resource, or professional medical help. Everyone’s puzzle piece journey is different. They might even decide the shape of the piece isn’t right anymore.

We all acquire puzzle pieces from the culture we grew up in, the family unit we learned life in; some of these pieces are to be celebrated, some of them are challenging to us. We must examine them to find out.

We start to work on them, to recolour or reframe them and they change.

Now, that’s good if we do just have to just change their colour, then they can slot back into the whole nicely, they might just look a little out of place for the time being, but it feels good so we keep going. The real challenge comes if we had to change their shape entirely, so that they don’t fit back into the whole.

A dilemma occurs, because the piece won’t fit back in, so we have to set the piece to the side. The challenge is that now there’s a hole in the original puzzle, and the newly changed piece is now on the side, by itself. This might force us to pick more pieces out of the puzzle to reexamine and change so we can join them with the isolated piece. However, now we have two jigsaw puzzles in our lives, incongruent to each other. We might feel frantic to complete either one. We might experience a shocking event in our lives that forces us to examine all of the pieces in it’s context.

This is where integration is key. We need to find a bridge between the new and the old. Perhaps the one jigsaw puzzle analogy breaks down here slightly, because it’s likely that there are aspects of life that don’t fit neatly inside of the already established picture, perhaps there were unexamined pieces that we’d left conveniently in the box?

Perhaps we look backwards and see that there is a perfectly formed picture of our lives that we can admire, and celebrate, but that we no longer want to work on; we know that our current puzzle is different, and that is absolutely fine.

Understanding why these pieces don’t fit in the old puzzle is key to fulfilment, because having faith that life is providing you with opportunity, and having faith that no matter what you are faced with, if you face it with your whole body, and heart, then you will be doing the right thing for you. I have faced many challenges that I did not understand, that seemed incongruent to my old puzzle, but then seemed to slot into place in a wider context later on, when i’d gained more knowledge, and integrated that knowledge into my experience of life. Wisdom knows that building a puzzle is not always a straightforward process. Because life contains all aspects, not just the ones we want to look for.

The many aspects of life contain endless learnings, my own philosophy tells me that the puzzle can never really be finished, and there’s a beauty to that; a mystery, an endless realm of discovery. Curiosity helps us to understand how those pieces look, objectivity, meditation, and self reflection helps us to know their true context and reality, and intuition and feeling helps us to know where they fit in our puzzles; our environments. Too often I feel that we view the world from a linear and polarised perspective. All these things must fit in the whole, they are all useful in some aspect, but if you try to compare them on a polarised scale, you might find you’re staring at the puzzle for a long time.

It’s so important to integrate the experiences of life otherwise you might feel a growing disconnect to them, to who you are. It might not allow you to know, and to feel, what you feel about certain situations quickly. You might always be playing catch up, always thinking back to situations and thinking: “That’s how I feel about that, I wish i’d said something!” If we can know how we feel in each moment we can express it, and in expressing it, we can set the appropriate boundaries. Boundaries are great for relationships because really they are just expressions of your puzzle pieces. If people in your relationships are aware of your pieces, then they can be respectful, and if they choose not to be respectful then it is their responsibility. If we are not expressive around our selves then can we really blame others for misinterpreting us in our communications?

In extreme cases this disconnect can cause extreme psychological tension within us, it really is important to put in the work to understand how your puzzle is built. We must do this with the correct support and resources. Otherwise the tension will build passed your capacities and you’ll snap. This is what an argument looks like. Life is a patient stroll, be gentle, be grateful, be curious, be forgiving, be loving. Most of all be all those things towards yourself first, love comes from the overflowing of your cup.

Each moment, and each stage of our lives can bring us a new puzzle piece to understand and integrate. Maybe it might even replace an old piece. Who knows.

Happy puzzling.

This post was previously published on Change Becomes You and is republished here with permission from the author.


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